VA Hospitals in Tampa Bay Lengthen Wait Times for Vets

James A. Haley VA Medical Center, Tampa, FL.

Veterans seeking care at both VA hospitals in the Tampa Bay region are waiting longer for care, but with no consequences to the hospitals. That’s because both hospitals expanded its allowable wait times, a major measurable for VA centers, which is not against policy the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Tampa Bay’s two veterans hospitals have changed a much-watched measure of their performance by increasing from 30 to 120 days the time a patient must go without an appointment before being placed on a waiting list, interviews and documents obtained by the Tampa Bay Times show.

Critics of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs say the change is part of a wider VA trend of fudging statistics showing how well facilities serve veterans.

The VA denies the charge.

But at James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa, a switch from 30 to 120 days this month left the hospital’s waiting list for outpatient appointments much improved. It dropped from March’s 4,981 patients to 1,800 this month, Haley figures show.

The VA Medical Center at Bay Pines in Seminole increased its waiting list threshold from one to four months in late 2010, earlier than Haley, Bay Pines said.

Earlier this month, an inspector generals report found that the VA skewed its waiting times to make it appear that Veterans were receiving mental health services in a timely manner according to an NPR report.

Now, any vet asking for help is supposed to be evaluated within 24 hours and start treatment within two weeks. The VA has claimed that happens in the vast majority of cases, but a new investigation by the agency’s inspector general says the VA statistics are skewed to make wait times appear shorter.

… The inspector general’s report says, rather than starting the clock from the moment a vet asks for mental health care, the VA has been counting from whenever the first appointment became available. That could add weeks or months to the wait time.

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